JOHANNESBURG - There is a fine line between success and failure, and for the Lions this weekend’s Super Rugby match against the Highlanders in Dunedin will determine which of the two words they’ll be able to write down in the results column for their tour Down Under.
A win in the Otago capital will make the four-stop tour of Australasia a success, but a defeat will make the trip a failure.
The Lions go into the match on Saturday having kicked off their tour with a resounding 29-0 win against the Waratahs in Sydney, but they then slumped to successive defeats against the Reds and Hurricanes.
A further defeat this weekend would see the Lions return home on Sunday with a one-win-three-losses record for the tour, but a win would get them to the 50% win mark for the trip - a much better and more satisfying scenario.
A victory would also relieve some of the pressure that has built up in the last two weeks, with the likes of the Stormers, Sharks and Bulls - heck, even the Jaguares - catching up to the Lions in the SA Conference in the race for the top spot.
“They are catching us, but we’re not looking at what the other teams are doing,” said Lions coach Swys de Bruin about the state of affairs in the SA Conference.
The Lions still lead the way with 31 points, followed by the Jaguares (24), Sharks (23), Stormers (22) and Bulls (20).
“All of us though still have to play against each other, but all we can do is focus on what we have to do each week and try get back on track as quickly as possible. We need to get as much as we can out of the next game.”
Highlanders a ‘character team’
De Bruin said a win, under the roof in Dunedin, would make the Lions’ tour a successful one. “Definitely ... it would mean a lot to us, it would be a successful tour then. Bar the first half against the Reds (when the Lions slumped to a 24-0 deficit at half-time in Brisbane) we’ve played good rugby on tour and maintained our standards.
“We showed a lot of guts in the wind last week against the Hurricanes and registered our best score against them. We could have even got a bonus point in the end, but it was not to be. The reality is playing the Canes in Wellington is the toughest away game you can get. But, it’s also going to be tough this weekend, at a place where we haven’t won before.”
The Lions will, however, hope to catch the Highlanders a little cold after they had to travel back to New Zealand this week after copping a hiding by the Sharks in Durban last Saturday.
De Bruin though isn’t banking on any favours and insisted the Highlanders will prove tough to beat.
“They’ve got the All Blacks scrumhalf (Aaron Smith) and fullback (Ben Smith) and their flyhalf Lima Sopoaga comes off the bench ... that spine of theirs is very good. They’re a ‘character team’ and while they’re not a good away team, their record is not great; they’ve got a brilliant record in Dunedin. So it’s going to be a big challenge.
“We’re ready for them, waiting for them, but their travelling back this week won’t have any impact on how they go on Saturday.”
The key selection this week will be that of Robbie Coetzee at hooker in place of the injured Malcolm Marx.
De Bruin said he had full confidence in his back-up No 2 and confirmed flank Marnus Schoeman will be Coetzee’s deputy this weekend.
"Marnus can play hooker and so, too, can Jacques van Rooyen, who’s stood in there before, so we’re fine.”